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Review: 'Cowboys' Depicts a Father's Unshakable Bond with His Trans Son

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Feb 12, 2021

Writer/director Anna Kerrigan's sophomore feature film, "Cowboys," had its Tribeca premiere online, which is a sign of these COVID-troubled times. Nevertheless, this beautiful and touching drama still shone through, winning a best screenplay award for Kerrigan and an equally well-deserved best actor award for Steve Zahn, her leading man.

Zahn plays Troy, whose mental issues contribute to the failure of his marriage and also land him in jail from time to time. He's married to Sally (Jillian Bell), a conventional woman who insists on clinging to her tightly-held religious beliefs. However, the real love of Troy's life is their 11-year-old child Joe (an incredibly talented Sasha Knight), who has always identified as male.

Sally refuses to accept Jo/Joe's gender identity and insists he dress up with lots of frills and feminine flourishes, which so exasperates him that he might be headed for a mental breakdown.

Troy has always accepted Joe as he sees himself. "I'm not a tomboy. A tomboy's just another type of girl, but I'm not a girl," says Joe, explaining to his father why he can't keep wearing dresses. "Sometimes I think aliens put me in this girl body as a joke. I'm in the wrong body, okay? I'm a boy."

By this time Troy is estranged from Sally, but he is determined to rescue his child so that he can be his true self. One night the two of them sneak off in the cover of darkness. They don't get too far before Troy's old truck breaks down so he"'borrows" a white horse, determined to head for the Canadian border and freedom.

When a distraught Sally discovers Joe missing, she alerts the local police - though she fails to tell them that he now has short hair and wears boys' clothes. Detective Faith Erickson (Ann Dowd) only discovers that when she finds a photo stuck in the dashboard of Troy's abandoned truck.

Now the subject of a nationwide missing child alert, father and son make tracks through the mountains and forests of Montana as they are pursued by the authorities. Flashbacks of their lives fill in how they got to this point.

The unconditional bond between this rough cowboy father and his transgender son is a sheer joy to behold. Kerrigan's script captures it perfectly, as does Zahn's finely nuanced performance (a career best). His simple and unquestioning acceptance of Joe makes this an exceptional story.

This film was never destined to have a traditional happy ending, especially when Troy loses his medications and starts to become unhinged. But the presence of the Dowd's brilliantly-played Detective Erickson, who keeps thinking outside the box, always has us hoping that father and son may still have a bright future together.

Every drama that has a transgender storyline always makes an important contribution to the continuing dialogue about that community, and this is no exception. This depiction of a powerful bond between father and son contains lessons for us all.

"Cowboys" opens in Virtual Cinemas and on VOD February 12

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.

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